AN EXPOSITION OF ROMANS 9:1-7
The life of Paul, as presented in Scripture, suggests that he was a very emotional personality. There is pathos, there is energy to the apostle that surges through the Divine narrative, as the record of his life is revealed. The emotional intensity that characterized the man also characterized his writings. At times, Paul tumbled out one thought after another, in an eager attempt to say something majestic (Ephesians 2:1-19). He was not opposed to interrupting himself or simply switching to another topic, which is what he did in Romans 9, 10, and 11. In this section of Scripture, there is no immediate connection to the narrative of Romans 8, and the preceding verses. What happened was that a new thought came to Paul as he meditated on all that God will do for His own. “But was not Israel considered God’s own people? Does God have nothing for Israel? What shall happen to his brethren according to the flesh? Have they failed God to the point that they are no longer part of His eternal plan?”
In Romans 9, 10, and 11, Paul argues that Israel did indeed fail God. Israel failed to enjoy all of the privileges associated with the Person, and work, of Jesus Christ. The reason for their spiritual failure was pride, and self-sufficiency. Israel had neglected to read the Scriptures properly, or interpret them accurately. As a result, Israel began to trust in their own good works, by the deeds of the Law. They were proud of their own fleshly heritage to the point there was no repentance of sin, and there was no worshipping of the Lord in sincerity. In short, they failed God. However, Israel’s failure is not to be considered total for souls do come to faith. Many Jews are converted to Christ. Nor is Israel’s failure final. All Israel shall yet be saved in the glorious future to come.
A Natural Reading of the Text
Keeping in mind Paul’s elliptical style of writing, his burden for national Israel, and his ministry to the Gentiles, the main challenge for biblical commentators is to determine what Paul means when he teaches that all Israel shall be saved. Is all Israel a reference to a particular generation of nationalistic Jews, or does all Israel refer to the Church as a whole, Jew and Gentile?
In developing the future of Israel whom Paul calls, “my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3), the apostle expresses the deep anguish of his heart, testified to by the “witness in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 9:1). Here is an amazing thing really for the people to whom Paul agonizes over, are the very ones who sought to kill him (Acts 21:31). Despite repeated attempts on his life, Paul writes, that his heart is so burdened for the Israelites, that he was even willing to be cut off from Christ Himself, if such action would lead to the conversion of others (Romans 9:3).
With these words, Paul reveals the pastoral heart that he possessed and which others have possessed before him. Moses had such a heart. When the Lord was angry with the Israelites for their idolatry, only the prayer life of Moses stood between himself and his brethren, and the nation was spared (Exodus 32:9-14).
A pastoral heart, in spiritual leaders, that does not want to see others perish, reflects the heart of the Great Shepherd Himself, who one day had a need to go through Samaria. There was a lost sheep that had wondered astray and needed to be rescued from sin, and shame. There was a woman who would draw water from the well at noontime, and Jesus had to meet her, and offer her living water so that she would never thirst again (John 4:1-26).
In the early days of America’s history, there was a great missionary to the Indians, by the name of David Brainerd (1718-1747). Well-educated, and personable, David could have accepted a comfortable church position as pastor in a large town. However, with reckless abandonment he gave his health, and therefore his life, preaching in the wilderness to the Indians. “I dream of lost souls, he wrote. I care not what sufferings I undergo as long as I see souls saved.” Brainerd did suffer. He contracted tuberculosis, and perished in the prime of his productive life. Faithful pastors, and concerned Christians, can understand what Paul meant when he wrote, “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). In the words of Richard Baxter, Paul had “tears in his voice” when he uttered these words.
Eight Privileges of a Chosen People
The agony of Paul’s soul was intense, because the apostle understood how great were the privileges his brethren had, historically. He mentions eight great particular privileges, associated with national Israel. (Romans 9:4-5)
1) Israel had the adoption of God. There was a time when the Jews were not the sons of God. But then one day God laid His mighty hand upon Abraham. God sovereignly chose a devil worshipper from Ur of the Chaldees to save in order to bring forth a people of His delight. The Lord adopted national Israel as a son. (Exodus 4:22, 23)
2) Israel had the glory. There was the Shekinah (dwelling)—a visible manifestation of the presence of God. Although the word is not found in the Bible, it occurs frequently in extra biblical Jewish writings. It refers to the times when God manifested Himself openly to Israel. (Mt. Sinai Exodus 24:9-18), in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle, and in Solomon’s Temple. The Shekinah was a resplendent cloud that stayed above the altar in the place of worship and gave light to the room. When the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in 586 BC, the Shekinah glory deceased. There was no Shekinah, in the Second Temple reconstructed later under Zerubbabel (c. 516 BC) and Herod, governor of Judea (374 BC). In addition to the Shekinah glory, Israel was led by the glory of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night during their wilderness journeys (Exodus 12:20-22; 16:10). What a miracle that was. They had The Glory Cloud to give protection by day from the burning sun and warmth at night from the frigid air. As long as Israel followed The Glory Cloud, they were safe and secure in the Lord. If, at night, they moved without the pillar of fire, they would walk in darkness. Individuals always walk in darkness when they do not go with God.
3) Israel had the covenants. There was the Abrahamic Covenant, whereby God promised to give Abraham a seed, a name, and a land (Genesis 12, 13). There was the Davidic Covenant whereby God promised a seed to sit upon the throne forever (2 Sam. 7). There was the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31), which was to undergird, in righteousness, all the covenants including the Mosaic Covenant of works (Exodus 20). Some Bible students like to speak of these covenants, as being unconditional, in the sense that God made certain promises He would keep, regardless of the behavior of the Israelites. However, it can be pointed out that even to Abraham, God says, that His blessings were bestowed because of Abraham’s obedience and unswerving faith in the promises of God and in the God of promise. “And [God] said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:16-18). Covenants are intrinsically conditional. God made certain promises to Abraham, and to his descendants, and kept them. The name of Abraham did become great. The seed of Abraham prospered and the Land of Promise was taken (Note especially Joshua 21:43-45; 24:14). In turn, Abraham kept the faith. He wavered not at the promises of God, but his descendants did. Time after time they became faithless, despite the fact they had the covenants.
4) Israel had the Law. To have the Law of the Lord, written by the finger of God, was a great blessing indeed (Exodus 31:18; Psalms 119 [All]). During the days of Paul, the nation looked upon the Law as its most holy possession. Individuals would memorize the entire Torah.
5) Israel had the service of God. The Tabernacle in the desert, and the Temple in the land, provided a platform for spiritual service. Israel had a glorious priesthood, to structure the worship, and to process the offerings that were given to God. There was much beauty and pageantry in the holy ceremonies and services that were conducted on a daily basis. Special high, and holy days, enhanced the glory associated with the services of the Lord, especially when the High Priestly garments were worn.
6) Israel had the promises. In particular, there were the Messianic Promises of a Priest to come, a Prophet to come, and a King to come (Genesis 3:15; Num. 24:15-19; Deuteronomy 18:15-22). The Prophet, Priest, and King would come in One humble Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 53). A Child would be born, a Son would be given, and the government would be placed upon His shoulders (Isaiah 9:6). There were great and glorious promises that Israel had concerning the Messiah who would suffer in a vicarious (Isaiah 53:49), and victorious manner (Isaiah 53:10-12).
7) Israel had the fathers. Most Americans are proud to honor George Washington as the Father of this Country. Other Founding Fathers are held in high esteem: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, James Monroe, and Paul Revere. The list is long and lustrous. But Israel had the fathers of the faith: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Noah, and David. What a privileged people they were.
8) Israel had the Messiah. Best of all, Israel had Christ the Messiah, who is God, blessed. Amen. And yet, despite all of their spiritual advantages and blessings, Israel took the Lord of Glory and crucified Him. Israel killed the Messiah King. Israel despised the Son of the Living God. Israel did not believe that, in Christ, all of the prophecies were fulfilled.
Scripture Interpreting Scripture: Romans 9:6-13
The historical fact of Israel killing the Lord of Glory raises a theological inquiry. “How did it happen that Israel did not recognize her Messiah?” Moreover, “What shall become of the nation?” These unspoken questions, which Paul anticipates, are not easy to answer. The best Paul can do is to turn to various Old Testament passages to show several reasons why Israel rejected the Messiah—despite the promises, and general expressions of love by God, in so many ways.
- The people of Israel failed as a nation to see their need for a personal Savior. They held an erroneous belief that the act of circumcision, in association with keeping the Law, and being a physical descendant of Abraham was enough to secure salvation (Romans 9:6-29).
- The lack of spiritual discernment led the Jews to pursue righteousness by works rather than by faith. This was united with an innate sense of self-righteousness to produce a hardness of heart toward the Gift of Heaven (John 6:31-35; Romans 9:30-33).
- The Jews had a zeal for God, but it was not based on knowledge (Romans 10:2, 3). Israel failed to discern that there is a spiritual, as well as a physical seed of Israel, and the true Israel of God is to be found in the spiritual seed.
To prove that there are two seeds of Abraham the apostle cites four Old Testament passages and comments upon them: Romans 9:7; Genesis 21:2; Romans 9:9; Genesis 13:10, 14; Romans 9:12; Genesis 25:23; Romans 9:13; Malachi 1:2.
The Two Seeds of Israel
In Romans 9:7, the apostle begins, by acknowledging that there is a physical seed of Israel consisting of all the direct descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Also, to be numbered in the physical seed of Israel, are Gentiles, who have been proselytized to the Law of Moses. Nevertheless, They are not all Israel, which are of Israel (Romans 9:6).
In the sight of the Lord, there is a spiritual seed to consider. Attention is focused upon the promise given by God to Abraham, that he would have a son. “Nevertheless, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac, shall thy seed be called” (Romans 9:7). Isaac would be a child of promise. Isaac would be a child of faith. Isaac would be the prototype of the spiritual seed, through which the Messiah would ultimately come. It is the spiritual seed of Israel that Paul wants to emphasize, by noting the distinguishing grace of the Sovereign God between one part of Israel, and another. The spiritual seed of Israel includes all Jews, and all proselytized Gentiles, such as Rehab, and Ruth (Hebrews 11:31; Ruth 1:16), who have the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.